Idella and Avis are The Sisters from Hardscrabble Bay; the girls learned early on to fend for themselves. In 1916, their family is barely scraping out a living on a rocky potato farm in New Brunswick, when their mother unexpectantly dies in childbirth. The girls, ages seven and five, are left in the care of an overwhelmed father who turns to alcohol for comfort. Though Dad tries to create a semblance of normalcy by hiring a series of French Canadian housegirls, none stay for long, and after a few years, he ships the girls across the border for a short stay at a boarding school in Maine.
Idella grows up to be the responsible older sister — always caring for someone. First, it’s for her father, after he is accidentally shot when hunting deer out of season; later, she cares for her very contrary mother-in-law. On the other hand, Avis is the wild one — a free spirit who likes to drink and who runs through men, but often pays painful consequences for her impulsive choices, including a stint in prison. Still, all is not heartbreak in this story of family ties and remarkable resilience — there are equal doses of humor and hilarity as well.
What I found most intriguing about this book is that the author, Beverly Jensen, died of pancreatic cancer in 2003, never having published a word of her writing. So how did this book come to be? Well, a group of supporters gathered around her work, initially getting one of the chapters of this book published as an award-winning short story. Amazingly, the stories all fit together with convicing continuity and the author’s voice comes through loud and clear, even beyond the grave. Every writer should have such friends.
Five Thousand Days Like This One is from an Italian toast and reflects the hope for legacy and whatever permanence exists these days. This memoir by Jane Brox is beautifully written, and it’s also a fascinating insider look at running an orchard and farm stand in Massachusetts Merrimack Valley.
This very slim book is specific to one family, and the history of textile mills. Yet it is also a universal story of losing one’s heritage – either that of a family’s or an industry or a region.
Here and Nowhere Else: Late Seasons of a Farm and its Family is an earlier book and also evokes the simple pleasures and the back-breaking rigors of farm life. Brox is a master of the telling detail; the satisfaction of growing things blue Hubbard squash, corn, blueberries and tomatoes.
submitted by Sarah W.
After the quickest courtship on record and one year of marriage, lonely Andie left workaholic North in Maybe This Time by Jennifer Cruise. Ten years later, she comes back with unwelcome news: she’s marrying someone who will appreciate her.
North wants Andie to be happy, so he stalls her by offering her a job while he investigates the new fiancé. She hasn’t touched any of her alimony, but maybe she’ll accept a paycheck. Besides, he really does need her help taking care of his recently orphaned niece and nephew, who have driven off every caretaker he’s found for them since the mysterious death of their aunt. And who knows…maybe this time she’ll stay.
Andie agrees to move into the remote and crumbling Archer House and prepare the kids to move into less Gothic surroundings. Two weeks, tops, and she’ll be planning her wedding to a man who won’t let her down. But when two implacable remnants, a nympho ghost and a soulless investigative reporter threaten her and the kids she’s starting to call her own, who’s she gonna call?
All signs point North…
Every night before bed, I try to catch the newest episode of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart. So I was surprised and excited when I saw that one of my favorite Daily Show correspondents, Samantha Bee, had just come out with a book of humorous essays about her life. In her new book I Know I Am, But What Are You?, Bee covers everything from her upbringing by her Wiccan mother to teaching her friends about the birds and the bees using her Barbie dolls to trying to come up with the perfect gift for her husband and failing miserably. I was reading this book on a road trip to Chicago and found myself laughing out loud and sharing passages with my sister and husband, who couldn’t help but laugh out loud themselves, particularly at the passage where she described her son wanting to put the family cat in his mouth in order “to be kept safe forever in a protective human boy suit.”
Though she stays out of the realm of political humor that she is famous for on The Daily Show, Bee has no problem finding hilarious situations in her own life to write about. One of my favorites is her story of how she met her husband, fellow Daily Show correspondent Jason Jones: they were both in a traveling stage production of the childrens cartoon Sailor Moon, complete with anime-style outfits and a lot of very displeased children in the audience. You don’t have to be a fan of The Daily Show to enjoy this book; you just have to be looking for a good laugh.
The Pioneer Woman Cooks is an unique combination of cookbook and sociological essay. Ree Drummond got sidetracked on her journey from L.A. to Chicago, when she stopped in Oklahoma and met the cowboy who was to become her husband.
The photographs of horses, dogs, cowboys and rainbow straddled fields are sometimes cute and funny, sometimes striking and romantic. They alone make you want to pack your bags and move to a ranch out West.
The recipes are clear and simple, and each step is accompanied by a photograph. They are not definitely not for someone looking for low-fat or low-cholesterol meals. However, if you go to her blog, http://thepioneerwoman.com, you’ll find a “Cowgirl Food” category with dishes like lettuce wraps and sundried tomato pasta salad. Drummond actually got her start as a blogger, and both the book and blog are breezy, personal and easy to digest.
Fly Away Home by Jennifer Weiner tells a story that seems all too familiar right now: a politician is caught cheating on his loyal wife of three decades. Sylvie, the wronged and distraught wife, isn’t sure what to do with herself, since her life has been solely about helping her husband with his political career for their entire marriage. This book tells the story of how she, along with her daughters Diana and Lizzie, cope with the senator’s indescretions. Sylvie finds solace, and unexpected company, when she decides to cope at her family’s old summer house in Connecticut. The story gets complicated, since Sylvie’s daughters are going through troubles of their own when the scandal breaks: Lizzie has just gotten through with another stint in rehab, and Diana is stuck in a loveless marriage and has responded by carrying on her own extramarital affair.
What I love about Jennifer Weiner’s books is that the characters are real and relatable. They are flawed, and they remind you of people you know. This is the case with this book. It feels like a scandal ripped from the headlines, but with enough personality and emotion that you feel like you know Sylvie and want nothing more than to comfort her and tell her to be strong. But my favorite character had to be Lizzie. Though she struggled through a lot, she worked hard to overcome her demons and make a good life for herself and anyone else who surprisingly came along….
If you haven’t read them yet, I highly recommend checking out some of Jennifer Weiner’s other books, including In Her Shoes, which was later adapted into a hit movie starring Toni Collette and Cameron Diaz as sisters Rose and Maggie. But my personal favorite of Jennifer Weiner’s works (and the favorite of so many other women I know) is Good In Bed. The book is about a plus-sized woman who finds out her boyfriend is writing about her and her size in his column (titled Good In Bed) in a Cosmo-like magazine. The book is both witty and emotional, and I kind of wanted to be Cannie’s best friend by the end. Pick up any one of Jennifer Weiner’s books, and I bet you won’t be disappointed.
They’re Your Parents, Too! by Francine Russo is all too relevant for many baby boomers coping with their aging parents and siblings.
Russo notes that this is the first generation that has had to so frequently manage their parents’ long term illnesses -which may last for decades. This places a strain on sibling relationships that may already be fraught with unresolved rivalries. Dysfunctional sibling/parent relationships can be unaddressed for many years only to erupt when everyone is forced to deal with emotional and critical issues.
Some families are able to navigate this very painful terrain, respecting those that have been the primary caregiver(s); many would benefit from a third party such as a social worker or doctor, according to Russo, who has interviewed many, many families. She advises lots of honest communication and attempting to understand the points-of-view of others. It’s never an easy journey, but it can be made bearable if siblings support each other.
At last! Summer is here! Time to get up off that couch and see something of the world. And what better part of the world to explore than our own beloved USA? There’s no shortage of exciting and interesting places to visit and lucky us, many of the most beautiful, most historic, most fragile have been set aside and protected, for us and for future generations – the National Parks.
National Geographic’s Complete National Parks of the United States is a great place to start if you’re not sure where you want to go. In fact, it might make you to realize you’d like to go everywhere, the pictures are so enticing and beautiful. The descriptions of each park are short and to the point – you will want to do more research if you are planning a major stay – but this gives you the highlights and must-sees. It’s also useful to show you places you might want to stop along the way – maybe schedule a stop at the lesser known Black Canyon of the Gunnison on your way to the Grand Canyon, or reroute to visit to the Tuskegee Airmen National Historic Site when heading to the Everglades. Website and contact information is included for each site.
Now there’s no excuse for not getting out and participating in the great American summer vacation (Chevrolet optional!)
Sarah Silverman has found herself in some fairly high-profile tussles over the years regarding ironic portrayals of discriminatory language in a comedic setting. Instead of more of the same, Silverman’s first book recounts these public drubbings over taboo subjects, as well as showing some of her more vulnerable and hurtful formative experiences. It is refreshing to see what shaped the comedienne so often portrayed as the cruel bully. But, fans of her show might find the ribaldry stops with the book’s off-color title.
It’s that time of year again – great weather and important events have arrived! Graduations, weddings, reunions, holidays, vacations – they’re just around the corner. Time to brush up on your photography skills so you can capture all those special moments.
There’s no better place to start than BetterPhoto Basics by Jim Miotke – whether you’re an enthusiastic amateur or an absolute beginner you’ll find lots of inspiration. The great thing about this book is that the majority of tips and ideas work with virtually any camera – Miotke even talks about using the camera on your iPhone! (proving once again that the best camera is the one you have with you) Tips are simple but effective – making the best use of available light, fill your frame with your subject, using the rule of thirds to compose a shot, checking the background. Throughout Miotke encourages creativity and experimenting – often simply looking at your world from a different angle can produce amazing shots. A series of simple photo assignments will help you apply these ideas. There’s even a chapter on easy fixes you can do with your photos on your computer.
Now there’s no more excuses for blurry, uninteresting photos – this book will fix those problems and make capturing memories fun!